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Observations From Cooperstown: The Chief, Maxwell Smart, and Bill White

It’s been a relatively busy week in Yankeeland. Aside from the Andy Pettitte retirement, which has been covered well by other writers here, the Yankees signed a free agent pitcher and made a trade for a minor league outfielder. Thirty-five-year old Freddy” The Chief” Garcia, a onetime legitimate No. 2 starter, signed a minor league contract, while Justin Maxwell, a 27-year-old former prospect with the Nationals, landed on the 40-man roster.

Let’s begin with Garcia. If he pitches reasonably well this spring, he’ll take his place as either the fourth or fifth starter. He pitched surprisingly well for the White Sox last year, logging 157 innings to the tune of a 4.63 ERA. If nothing else, he pitched far better than the enigmatic Javier Vazquez and the puzzling A.J. Burnett. If Garcia duplicates his ChiSox numbers this year, the Yankees will be more than satisfied; he’ll also be able to top the 12 wins he accrued now that he’s pitching behind a very capable Yankee offense. All in all, a good move for the Yankees, who protected themselves by signing Garcia to a minor league deal that allows them to cut bait if he has a poor spring.

Maxwell joins the Yankees at the minimal cost of minor league right-hander Adam Olbrychowski, a 24-year-old reliever of the non-prospect variety. Maxwell is a lesser known quantity than Garcia, but at first glance, he appears likely to battle Greg Golson for the fifth outfield spot. At 27, Maxwell can no longer be considered a real prospect; he hasn’t put up impressive minor league numbers since 2007, when he hit 27 home runs and slugged .533 for a couple of Class-A teams. On the plus side, Maxwell is athletic at six-feet, five inches and 225 pounds, with enough speed to play center field and enough arm to play right. On the whole, he might be considered a less speedy version of Golson, but with more patience at the plate and more power. Maxwell will have to outplay Golson this spring in order to make the 25-man roster; otherwise, he’ll be heading to Scranton/Wilkes Barre to start the season.

As with the Garcia signing, there’s little to lose here–with the potential upside of adding a complementary piece to the 25-man roster…


Like the rest of the Northeast, I can’t wait for the arrival of spring. In addition to warmer weather and baseball, here’s another reason to look forward to springtime: the release of Bill White’s autobiography. The former Yankee broadcaster has written his memoirs, entitled Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play. Based on the previews I’ve read, the 320-page book, published by Grand Central, promises to be a hard-hitting, brutally honest tome, which isn’t too surprising considering White’s broadcasting style.

For those Yankee fans too young to remember the days before the YES and MSG networks, Bill White was one of the three broadcasting staples of Yankee games on WPIX, not to mention the radio coverage on WMCA, WINS, and WABC. Along with Phil Rizzuto and Frank Messer, White became synonymous with Yankee broadcasts throughout the 1970s and much of the eighties. He was also a pioneer; when he signed on to do Yankee broadcasts in 1971, he became the first African American to do play-by-play for a major league team.

At one time a star with the St. Louis Cardinals, Bill White became one of my broadcasting heroes. He was the man who brought reason and stability to Yankee broadcasts, counterbalancing Rizzuto’s hijinks and Messer’s occasionally overoptimistic outlook. When the Yankees played well, White praised them. When they didn’t, he called them out, tough but fair. He even criticized the front office at times, a habit that was not shared by many other Yankee broadcasters

White was also a versatile talent in the broadcast booth. Unlike most former players, White could handle any role on radio or TV. He was equally adept at doing color or play-by-play, which made it easy for him to work with either Rizzuto or Messer. In addition, he smoothly handled pre- and postgame interviews, so much so that ABC hired him to work some playoff clubhouses in the mid-1970s.

I haven’t heard much about White since he vacated the presidency of the National League in 1994. But I suspect we’ll be hearing more about him this spring, as his tell-all book begins to gain traction. I have a feeling that William De Kova White will be naming names for about 320 pages.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Bruce Markusen

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1 monkeypants   ~  Feb 4, 2011 10:52 am

Hm...I'd be interested to read White's book, that is for sure.

2 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 4, 2011 12:20 pm

Are you kidding? I want to read it for the title alone!

3 Professor Longnose   ~  Feb 4, 2011 1:08 pm

I loved Bill White. He was professional, intelligent, and amusing, and he could keep Phil Rizzuto from floating off into the stratosphere, at least sometimes. I those days, I didn't have anything to compare the Yankee team to except the network guys, and White was better than all of them.

"Deeeeep to left. Yasrzemski...will not get it, it's a home run!"

4 Bruce Markusen   ~  Feb 4, 2011 5:55 pm

I agree with you all about Bill White. Of the Yankee announcers today, the only one who comes close to him, in terms of having both good broadcasting technique and a consistently rational voice, is Ken Singleton.

5 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 4, 2011 6:31 pm

Me too! Loved Bill White as an announcer, and Chyll, that title promises major impact!

6 Raf   ~  Feb 5, 2011 6:30 pm

It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about his time as NL President; I remember that he wanted to step down, but the owners made him stick around longer than he would've liked. I think he knew that the owners' resolve was hardened and they were loaded for bear in 1994.

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